Traversal is a term often associated with configurations of space and time. Lemke (2009) defines traversals as a mediational process that involves forging connections across spaces. Traversal accounts for movement from one digital or physical environment to another. Of prime example would be researchers examining hyperlinked pages of the same website or viewing different video observation clips of the same classroom. Traversal also accounts for the experiential meaning making that occurs when linking across these spaces with varied spatial arrangements and timescales. For example, the ways in which researchers attend to sights, sounds, meanings and feelings that emerge through their navigation.

Lemke’s articulation of traversals draws from the work of Bruno Latour in the social studies of science and technology focused on the analytic conceptualisation of ‘chains of translations of inscriptions.’ It is a process concerned with understanding how researchers retain justifiable connections when taking data that exists on a longer timescale continuum (e.g., study of literacy practices in a school occurring in real time) and translate it into a new inscription (e.g., video recording of a lesson in one classroom) and continue to re-inscribe its transcription as they move across research stages from data collection and analysis to published findings. For Lemke and Latour, this phenomenological perspective situates the researcher, the mediation and mediational technologies and any produced representations as networked in an interdependent chain of logic.

Lemke (2002; 2005) also draws from the work of M.A.K. Halliday as well as Gunther Kress and Theo Van Leeuwen to discuss the semantic and semiotic sequencing of traversals or what he calls ‘hypermodality.’ Essentially, he distinguishes that hypertexts and multimedia require more navigation than traditional genres of a print-medium. For example, digital environments present more interactivity through layered, looped and linked reading paths. Given that these spaces are not structured in a single unifying narrative or in the sequential timescale of a thesis, he proposes the use of cohesion chains (e.g., linguistic signs and semiotic functions) to link across hypertext and multimedia spaces. Adapting the genre-principles for online traversals offer guiding cohesive sequencing through the use of presentational, orientational and organisational relations.

The notion of traversal in video, online and multimedia research are particularly relevant to multimodal transcriptions. It provides a means for forging connections between the world on the screen and the research world to develop supporting evidence of what is being “shown.” The ways in which people take up the affordances of mediating technologies and their relation to them constitutes the multimodal meanings they ascribe about the linkages among these spaces.

In conducting multimodal research, concerns often arise about spatial organisation, particularly the affordances and constraints of design in digital environments. Given that such mediation is an increasingly salient feature of our daily sensory experience with digital technologies, the notion of traversal offers a unifying coherence by which to ground micro-analytic approaches utilised to transcribe multimodal texts.

Editor: Myrrh Domingo

Key References

Lemke, J. (2002)
‘Travels in hypermodality.’
Visual Communication 1(3): pp. 299-325.

Lemke, J. (2005).
‘Multimedia Genres and Traversals.’
Folia Linguistica. 39(1-2): pp 45–56.

Lemke, J. (2009).
Multimodality, identity and time.
In C. Jewitt (Ed.), The Routledge handbook of multimodal analysis (pp. 140–150). Abingdon: Routledge.